Drawing the Lines: California Certifies New Congressional Districts

On Dec. 27, the California Citizens Redistricting Commission certified maps of the state’s new U.S. Congressional districts. Following the decennial U.S. census, district lines were redrawn to represent new demographic changes in the country: these new districts will come into play during the 2022 midterm elections. 

Per the U.S. Constitution, California, like all other states, is federally mandated to update Congressional districts every ten years based on the Census. These new districts are drawn by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, a group of 14 college-educated California citizens, with professional backgrounds, selected by the California government. The Commission is independent of any governmental entity. 

Under the redistricting plan, San Diego will remain represented by five congressional districts. UC San Diego  Political Science Professor Thad Kousser mentioned a few notable changes within the redistricting plan. 

“[The plan] takes San Diego’s five congressional districts and re-sort[s] them in a way that more clearly divides us on an east and west axis, rather than… the north and south divisions that were present in the prior plan,” Kousser said. 

The redistricting plan also creates a new 50th district along the Pacific coastline. The district incorporates Coronado, Downtown San Diego, Mission Bay, La Jolla, University City, and the UCSD campus, essentially splitting the current 52nd district in two. The eastern portion of Claremont, Mira Mesa, and Sorrento Valley are now part of the new 51st district. 

According to Kousser, “[the plan] doesn’t notably create any newly competitive districts and allows each of the current incumbents a pretty safe electoral home.” Representative Scott Peters, who represents the current 52nd district and which includes the UCSD campus, will run as incumbent for the new 52nd district in 2022.

Kousser also mentions that 50th, 51st, and 52nd districts will lean strongly Democratic, while the 48th district — which includes much of East County — will have a Republican stronghold.  

“The 49th [district] is our biggest chance for a battleground … most San Diego UCSD students won’t be voters in that district, but many of them still may be connected because Mike Levin, current officeholder, has created a lot of ties to students and political activists in the area,” Kousser continued.

The 52nd district, comprising the South Bay region and Southeast San Diego, will become San Diego’s first majority Latino district by voting-age population. 

“It gives a voting group that has a huge and growing presence in San Diego … The ability to elect a representative of their choosing. And that, in many ways, lives up to the promise of the Voting Rights Act,” Kousser said. 

The California Citizens Redistricting Commission, responsible for drawing the new districts, was established with a group of citizens with diverse backgrounds and interests. From a pool of 22,000 applicants, the State of California selected 14 commissioners through a vigorous application process. To ensure that a diverse group of voices were present, the selected Commission had five Democrats, five Republicans, and four Independents, as well as four first- or second-generation immigrants, three members of the LGBTQ+ community, and three Black citizens. 

Commissioner Patricia Sinay, one of the 14 selected with a background in nonprofit work, spoke to The UCSD Guardian about the Commission and their work. 

“We all have different professional experiences. Several of us were community organizers or had nonprofit backgrounds,” Sinay said. “We had two pastors, a sheriff, and some were from the private sector. So it was a really interesting mix of people.” 

The Voting Rights Act was one of several important considerations of the Commission, responsible for drawing the new districts. 

“The idea … is that minority communities have an opportunity to vote for those that they want to vote for,” Sinay said. 

Sinay further explained that each district must be equal in population, fulfill Voting Rights Act requirements, be continuous and compact, and unite “communities of interest.” The Commission classifies groups of voters with similar backgrounds and needs under these communities of interest. Fulfilling these requirements required significant outreach efforts by the Commission. 

“In January [2021], we [initiated] phase one, where we did a redistricting overview,” Sinay said. “Local political groups and students would invite us in to come and talk about redistricting and why it was important … we spent a good six months really going across the whole state reaching out to folks and explaining to them redistricting.” 

Following this initial outreach phase, Sinay explained that the Commission then continued by organizing these communities of interest, which form the basis for the new districts drawn in the plan.

“In that second phase, [the Commission] spent a lot of [time] listening to the communities to tell us who their communities of interest were,” she said. “We asked, who is it that you work, live, play, pray, protest with, that you would like to be represented with, and who wouldn’t you like to be represented with?” 

Sinay provided the example of the newly drawn 25th district, which includes Riverside and Imperial Counties, due to the presence of the Salton Sea in both regions. 

“Portola Valley, and Imperial, were very interested in working together because of the…the health issues around the Salton Sea … and environmental issues connected to the Colorado River Basin,” Sinay said. 

Currently, UCSD is located in the 49th district, separated from University City in the 52nd district. Under the new proposal and beginning with the 2022 midterm elections, UCSD and University City will both be located in the new 50th district, uniting a community of interest under one representative.. 

Those interested in reading more about the new Congressional maps or the Commission and the redistricting process can visit here

Artwork courtesy of Tony Anguiano for UCSD Guardian.

2 thoughts on “Drawing the Lines: California Certifies New Congressional Districts

  1. “It gives a voting group that has a huge and growing presence in San Diego … The ability to elect a representative of their choosing. And that, in many ways, lives up to the promise of the Voting Rights Act,” Kousser said.

    So racial gerrymandering is acceptable?

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